The annual Justice and Peace Conference this weekend is focusing on migration as its theme.
The 300 plus people attending the conference will hear from Migration Bishop Patrick Lynch about the challenges to Church and country of immigration.
Bishop Lynch has spoken before about the need to welcome migrants and value the contribution they make. He has also warned about scape goating in times of economic recession.
It is this question of how the Catholic Church makes migrants welcome and whether there really is integration rather than assimilation that should concern us all.
Two recent events brought the question to mind. The first was the untimely death of former Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) director Stephen Corriette. Nine years ago, CARJ published figures showing that there were 30 black priests out of 5,600 in 22 diocese in England and Wales. “It is ironic that the Catholic Church calls itself universal when it is driving black people away by its attitudes," warned Mr Corriette at the time.
The second event was the installation of Vincent Nichols as Arcbishop of Westminster in May before a sea of white clergy. The clergy of Westminster and other dioceses in no way reflect the ethnic make up of the areas they represent. It would be interesting to know how many more black priests there are among the 22 dioceses today.
The CARJ figures on black priests were published at the time of the McPherson report into the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence that identified a number of institutionally racist organisations in the country. The Church took on the recommendations of that report, accepting that it may well be institutionally racist. It undertook to address these issues, but what has happened since?
To make any definitive statement on the situation would require some research into the ethnic make up of parishes and diocese around the country. My guess though is that things have not progressed far over the past 10 years in terms of integrating black and minority ethnic people.
Integration means not simply allowing black and minority ethnic people to attend churches and schools but actually play a fundamental part in the operation of those institutions. The parish or school must open up to new ways of doing things, being prepared to change overall as a result of the input of the incomers. It is not simply a case of welcoming people in but not being prepared to change totally as a result of the contribution that they make. The fear must be that if a McPherson style audit was undertaken today of the Church that it would be found that there had been increased footfall and income but little integration or empowerment.
It would be good to see Archbishop Nichols taking a lead in this area. What is needed is an audit of our Churches and schools to discover whether they really are welcoming places that seek to integrate rather than assimilate migrant peoples.
The new Archbishop could also offer an intellectual lead. Previously, the Church hierarchy has got concepts like the need for integration mixed up with opposition to multiculturalism. There is no rationale to this argument.
Indeed, the Church would do well to have a proper intellectual debate about the merits of multiculturalism. As supporters of faith based education, logic should dictate that the Church also backs multiculturalism – the dots between these two concepts need to be joined up.
Integration rather than assimilation also belongs within the construct of multiculturalism. Integration does not mean that every migrant coming into the country simply gives up his or her culture to become a quasi-white Anglo Saxon. Integration means that the country takes on the values that migrants bring in and the mass of society as a whole changes accordingly. The new Archbishop and the Bishops Conference could do a great service to society if it spoke out strongly in favour of integration within the overall context of multiculturalism and diversity. In the past, it has been far too intellectually sloppy accepting Government dictats that couple a straight jacketing nationalism under the guise of citizenship with rejection of multiculturalism. This in reality amounts to accepting nationalism and assimilation. It is not where the Church should stand if it really does believe in welcoming migrants. As a universal body made up of migrants that have endured through the centuries, the Church has much to teach about genuine integration within a framework that enables each to contribute and play a full role.